MONTERREY — Most photographers have favorite subjects and preferred themes. Some are obvious and others less so. One person shoots flowers and selfies. Another also photographs flowers and themselves but, as with any art, the subject is not always just the subject. Robert Mapplethorpe’s beautiful black and white studies of calla lilies and tulips are far from ordinary photos of pretty flowers and Graciela Iturbide’s self-portraits are far more than another reflexive selfie.
Regardless of whether you are a seasoned professional, an avid amateur, or you just got your first camera last week, an excellent way to become a better photographer is to take photo-walks. Walking, of and by itself: exploring a new city, a faraway island, a familiar old trail or a nearby neighborhood is one of life’s great pleasures with or without a camera. But this story is about photo walks and one walk in particular I took with my friend, the inimitable Sebastian John, one hot day over a year ago in Mumbai, India. It was my last long walk in that city I called home for two years and similar to the first long walk I took by myself in Mumbai during the monsoon not long after we arrived. It was not quite as long as that watery hike, because Sebastian and I took our foray into Mumbai’s mad streets in the sweltering days just before the monsoon broke. The heat in that time of year is very nearly hallucinatory. The temperature, combined with the crowds, humidity, smoke and noise, can only be completely appreciated by someone who has been there. Neither a thousand words nor a thousand photos can describe the reality of the streets of Mumbai.
In the third week of the new year, I have crossed the Mississippi River from my home state of Arkansas and am passing slowly through little Mississippi towns like Rolling Fork and Cary under winter sunlight so pretty I wish it would never end. The Sunday streets are deserted, and the closer I get to the Louisiana border, it dawns on me that everyone is inside, glued to the Saint’s playoff game. Though not apt to follow sports closely, I appreciate high stakes and will always root for all things New Orleans, the great American city that she is. I am listening to the nail-biter on the radio and thinking of everyone I love in the Crescent City. On my approach into darkening Vicksburg: the crushing last-minute defeat just down river, a soon-to-be full moon emerging from a field in my rearview mirror. Evening is falling, and every direction I turn looks the way a Lucinda Williams song sounds.
I was 11 or 12 years old and looking for my first camera. My father told me, “Son, whatever type of camera you chose to be with is just fine with your mother and me just as long as it’s a Nikon.”
I had been perusing the centerfolds of camera magazines, ogling the Nikon bodies and yes, even the fine looking Olympus, Canon, Pentax, and Minoltas. When my father was once looking to buy a camera, his photographic mentor Gino Rossi told him to buy the one he really wanted, to not compromise. My dad told me the same thing and what I really did want was a Nikon. The others were pretty but they didn’t feel right for me. There was one caveat. I had read an article about Leicas and when I asked my dad about them he didn’t turn up his nose as he did at other brands. He said something about them being very good but too expensive — and for an 11-year-old about to spend his life savings of just over $100 that was the end of that. I ended up buying a well-used Nikon FM black body. My dad gave me a 50mm Nikon f/1.8 E Series lens, since my life savings wouldn’t cover any optics, and that camera carried me years into the future — to work at newspapers and on my first international documentary assignments in Central America. Along the way it was joined by a Nikon F3 and a few other lenses, most notably the Nikkor 20mm f/2.8. Finally, the old FM and the newer F3 were joined by a brand new Leica M6ttl. That my introduction to the M system and this is the story of that journey.
MONTERREY — I have shot tightly framed portraits of people since I began taking photos at age ten or eleven. A certain style of naturalistic headshot, the subject fully aware and looking straight into the lens, has been a major element of my work for my entire photographic life. I still have almost every negative I ever shot and though I hope I have learned a thing or two along the way, I am still rather happy with many of the portraits I took of my classmates, teachers, and family back in Junior High and High School.
The oddly and charmingly named (but what Voigtlander is not oddly and charmingly named) 35mm Color Skopar is among the smallest and lightest 35mm lenses you can get in Leica M mount. At around $500 new, it is also one of the least expensive. It is an excellent choice for your 35mm lens whether or not price is a consideration.
It may look like deepest Africa with fields stretching over rolling hills and wide open plains that resemble the Serengeti, but it is, in fact, The Wilds of Ohio. The Wilds is a nature preserve filled with African wildlife. Every so often, this wildlife refuge was home to an off-road event exclusive to those who owned a Land Rover. We brought a Jeep.
This weekend, right in Jeeps hometown where the legend is created, was the Toledo Jeep Fest. Thousands of Jeeps show up for 3 days of celebration of all things Jeep. From the Friday night headliner (this year it was KC & The Sunshine Band) to the collectible and historic Jeep show at the Seagate center and the parade with over 1600 Jeeps. The Toledo Jeep Fest is widely regarded as one of, if not the best, Jeep show in the nation. Saturday I got in my own Jeep, headed north and took the newly rereleased Leica 28/ƒ5.6 Summaron lens with the M10 along for the ride.
Every year millions flock to comic stores all over the country for an event called Free Comic Day. During this event parents and kids of all ages can get offerings from their favorite publishers for free. Special comics produced just for this event. Sometimes leading to major events, and sometimes a self-contained story just for this issue. And every year there are fans who go all out, dressing as Batman or the Ghostbusters and driving from shop to shop taking photos with kids and sometimes even the parents. This year while photographing the event for Worlds Greatest Comics in Westerville Ohio, I brought along the Leica CL and the L-Mount 23mm ƒ2 Summicron lens. FCD is a packed event, where comic shops are full, wall to wall of people of all sizes and ages. This was a great high energy event to test out the compact APS-C system from Leica….